George Habash was born in 1926 in Palestine in the town of Lydd, which became Lod after the Israelis ethnically cleansed it at the time of partition in 1947.
At the time when George Habash was born, Palestine was a British ‘Protectorate’, a euphemism for a British share in the spoils of war, specifically the first world war. At the end of the war, the former Ottoman Empire was divvied up between the victors, with Palestine falling to the British, who had for decades been cultivating a special relationship with Palestine’s Jewish minority and with the world zionist movement, which had its eyes on Palestine as the centre of a Jewish homeland.
British interest in Palestine dates back to Britain’s conquest of India, Palestine being both astride a main overland route as well as adjacent to seas over which any rival power – say, Germany or Russia – would need to cross were it intent on challenging British dominion over India. Hence the necessity of ensuring that Palestine was in the hands of authorities allied to Britain.
This explains the attraction to the British of the proposal put to them by the zionist, Theodor Herzl, that if they were to help the zionists establish their ‘national home’ in Palestine, they would secure for themselves a loyal Jewish Ulster in the heart of the Middle East.
As economic turmoil gripped capitalist Europe, Jews were made scapegoats in a number of countries for the miseries heaped on the working class and peasant masses by crises integral to the capitalist system, while Jews in their turn were urged by the oppressors and exploiters to embrace zionism as the solution to the problems of persecution and discrimination that they faced – racism as the ‘solution’ to racism!
Chaim Weizman (Herzl’s successor) was able in 1917 to negotiate with British imperialism that in exchange for zionist support in the first world war, the British would support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine – at a time when the Jews living in Palestine were outnumbered by more than 10:1 by the Arabs.
By this time, British interest in the Middle East had gone beyond the question of access to India. The scramble for oil had begun.
Oil was by then clearly going to be the key for future industrial and military development. The British navy had finally been persuaded to ditch sail and steam to rely exclusively on oil – indeed, its continued maritime supremacy depended on its doing so. So control of the sources of oil, overwhelmingly to be found in the Middle East so far as the Europeans were concerned, was a question of life or death for capitalism.
While relying heavily on the installation of compliant puppet regimes in all the various countries that produced oil or were conduits for its transportation to the centres of European imperialism, British imperialism also supported the ‘zionist Ulster’ as a useful back-up. The point about an ‘Ulster’ is that its reactionary regime is actually supported by its exploited masses, who feel that they have a common interest with the regime against the far broader masses of the population (Irish Catholics in Ireland and Arabs in Palestine).
Puppet regimes, on the other hand, tend to be deeply unpopular among their own people and, as a result, it is not too difficult to foresee that a time may come when it is no longer possible for an imperialist power to rely upon them.
It is obvious, therefore, why the British happily backed zionist plans to colonise Palestine.
“The advantages to the British Empire are obvious. The security of imperial interests can be better assured by a large European population than by a few battalions that can be spared”, remarked Lord Melchet, the founder of ICI, in this connection. In other words, what better fate for world Jewry than to be cannon fodder in British imperialism’s efforts to control the vast Arab population of the Middle East?
Following the end of the first world war, huge numbers of Jewish people were admitted by the British for settlement in Palestine. Between 1931 and 1944, for instance, the Jewish population almost trebled, from 173,000 to nearly 529,000.
The Palestinian Arabs fought tooth and nail against this process of immigration, understanding that, notwithstanding the weasel words of the Balfour Declaration to the effect that in establishing Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people, nothing should be done ‘which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’, the newcomers had no intention of coexisting peacefully with their Arab neighbours.
Quite apart from the fact that the Palestinian people had never been consulted on the question of their country being the national home of the Jewish people, the declarations of the zionists themselves (whose ideology was behind the Jewish immigration) showed that what they wanted was an exclusively Jewish state where the fate of Arabs was at best severe discrimination and second-class citizenship and at worst ethnic cleansing – and that in their own, Arab, homeland!
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Hitlerite barbarities against the Jewish people of Germany and eastern Europe gave further impetus to zionism, as hundreds of thousands of Jews escaping that barbarity were herded by US and British imperialism to Palestine – although most would have preferred to relocate to the US or safer parts of Europe.
In 1947, its dirty work done, British imperialism announced that it was withdrawing from its Mandate, leaving it to the UN to determine the future of Palestine.
The UN, as is well known, partitioned Palestine into an Israeli state and a Palestinian state – again without any consultation whatsoever with the Arab population. The Jewish state was to have a population a quarter the size of the Palestinian state, but, even so, there were slightly more Arabs left in the Jewish state there than there were Jews at that time.
Of course, imbued as they were with zionist ideology, there was no way that the zionists were prepared to tolerate having to live side by side with Arabs in their so-called Jewish state, which in any event they considered to be inadequate in extent. They had been inculcated with the idea that the Jewish state needed to be ‘Goyim-rein’ – free of non-Jews.
More than that, the zionists had been armed to the teeth and trained militarily by their British imperialist allies throughout the 1930s and 1940s, while Arabs had been systematically disarmed. The zionists even had their own armaments industry. With nobody to protect their interests, the Palestinian Arabs did not stand a chance.
Thus it was that George Habash’s town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv was ethnically cleansed and his entire family forced into exile at gunpoint, along with hundreds of thousands of other Palestinian Arabs. It was a crime of monstrous proportions for which there can never be any reparation other than the dissolution of the zionist state of Israel and the establishment of the secular state of Palestine, home to Jews and Arabs alike, and upholder of truly equal rights between the two communities, with a right of return for all those who fled their homes under the zionist assault, as well as for all their descendants.
This ideal of the secular Palestinian movement was always staunchly upheld by George Habash and by the PFLP, of which he was leader, as well as by the PLO, and it remains today, as it always was, the only solution to the Palestinian problem.
Of course, under pressure of the first Palestinian Intifada, the imperialist powers backing Israel – the US now playing the leading role, having taken over from the British in the mid 1950s – came up with the ‘two-state solution’ that offered Palestinians their own state on a fraction (22 percent) of their original territory – and a state riddled with Jewish settlements at that.
Quite rightly, George Habash refused to accept this could ever be a solution. However, he also refused to accept that it might be a step towards a solution, and, because of this, serious differences arose between his organisation, the PFLP, at that time the second largest organisation in the PLO, and Fatah, which was the largest.
Fatah, under Comrade Yasser Arafat’s leadership, was prepared for tactical reasons to accept the paltry offer that was on the table. He understood that the masses of tend to tire of the continual sacrifices demanded by the armed struggle and that one can lose them altogether for the struggle if one is perceived to spurn an offer of peace.
For this reason, although it was a difficult decision, many of us decided to support Yasser Arafat on this question rather than the PFLP, given the extremely difficult situation in which the Palestinians found themselves following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
And it cannot be denied that as a result of the refusal of imperialism and its zionist stooges to honour their side even of this grossly unequal bargain, the Palestinian cause has been advanced to a considerable degree. Yes, the struggle is more acute than it has ever been, and the Palestinian people are suffering greatly, but at the same time all sympathy for Israel has been lost; Arab regimes allied to imperialism are on shakier ground than they have ever been; support for the armed struggle against imperialism and zionism is broader than it ever has been, and the Oslo process also gave Palestinians access to armaments and military training.
We are convinced that the monster Israel is set to vanish as suddenly and ‘unexpectedly’ as, not so long ago, under the irresistible blows of the armed struggle, apartheid South Africa vanished, never more to rear its ugly head!
George Habash fully understood always that the fight against imperialism involves the mobilisation of the broad masses of the people, which in turn demands class alliances. George Habash and the PFLP, as communists, represent the interests of the Palestinian working class and seek to be closely allied with the broad masses of the poor peasantry, aiming at a future socialist state with a planned economy which will be able to march forward to communism while best serving the interests of the working class and peasantry alike.
To achieve that socialist state, however, it is obvious that first imperialism and its puppet zionists must be expelled from the area, and in this endeavour not only the working class and poor peasantry, but also almost every other section of Palestinian society, other than feudal relics dependent on imperialism for their very survival, have an interest in the anti-imperialist struggle and have to be encouraged to keep they eye on the ball at any cost (other than surrender)!
Because George Habash and the PFLP understood this essential truth, then, notwithstanding the inevitable differences that were bound to arise between his organisation and organisations representing other social classes, notwithstanding that for the moment it seems easier for religious elements to mobilise the masses than for secular forces, George Habash never allowed himself or his party to be knocked off course and always stood for maintaining unity within the anti-imperialist and anti-zionist struggle no matter what.
To his dying day, he was struggling to bring about a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas that would strengthen the anti-imperialist struggle.
At a moment in history when imperialism, in its death throes, is as an extremely dangerous wild beast, willing and able to commit any infamy to preserve its ignoble existence, anti-imperialist unity among all kinds of people who disagree with each other over all kinds of things, is absolutely essential to preserve.
We have to learn to preserve that unity even with people who put forward ridiculous policies (George Habash was able to do it, even when those ridiculous policies could secure mass support), even with people who insult us and hate us. If they are truly against imperialism then we are with them, whatever they might think of us.
We will continue to struggle for the acceptance of correct ideas, but, so long as our opponents are genuinely engaged in fighting imperialism – in practice as well as in words – nothing they or anyone else can do should undermine our support for that anti-imperialist struggle.
George Habash was a role model for this, and, to the extent that those who profess to admire him are able to follow his precious example, this will result in a tremendous boost for the anti-imperialist forces and a huge increase in their power.
To take one example, Comrade George Habash was a strong advocate of the rights of women, and would often castigate men in the movement for failing to put their money where their mouth was, since they would call for female equality in words, but continue treating women in the feudal way as chattels and inferiors in practice. The fact is that, notwithstanding the personal weaknesses of some comrades, it is only communists who demand true equality for women. In the end, who else can women – half the population – logically support? And what is true of women is equally true of all the exploited and oppressed masses.
By sticking to a firm anti-imperialist line while defending what is right, the PFLP will in time be able to gain hegemony over the mass movement. At the end of the day, only communism offers the masses real freedom, to build a happy life for themselves, as well as freedom of beliefs, by destroying all exploitation and oppressive relations.